[box cover]

Alpha Dog

The inherent problem with all stories about gangsters — or, for that matter, all films about vice — is that in showing the rise and fall, the rise is going to be very attractive. Even with wanna-be's and the low-level hoods, it's an enticing proposition for audiences to experience the world of sin. Old school filmmakers knew that — they often were more interested in Sodom and Gomorrah than Lot's wife. And such is the problem with films like Alpha Dog (2007), because when audiences are introduced to would-be tough guys doing drugs and having sex, the eventual murder that enters the plot inevitably ruins the high. Fortunately, Alpha Dog benefits from being a procedural, laying out the facts of the real case and allowing director Nick Cassavetes an outline as a fall-back. Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) is the focus of the investigation — he was on the FBI ten most-wanted list (a tough rap in the era of Osama Bin-Laden). He's a pot dealer who acts tough and is owed money from Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), who is strung out but also a kung-fu expert. Johnny is surrounded by homies, including indebted Elvis (Shawn Hatosy) and Frankie (Justin Timberlake), as well as his girlfriend Angela (Olivia Wilde). When Jake literally makes a bowel movement in Johnny's house, Truelove is forced to retaliate and takes the upper hand when he sees Jake's brother Zack (Anton Yelchin) walking down the street. Johnny decides to make Zack as a hostage, which leads to Zack's parents (Sharon Stone plays his mom) flipping out and brings the real heat on Johnny. But for Zack, he gets to hang with Frankie, get high, and get hit on by girls who are impressed that he's some kind of hostage (including Mean Girls' Amanda Seyfried), which leads to his first sexual encounter… with two women. After that, the fatalism of the story is realized when he's driven by Elvis to a remote location where he is murdered. The most interesting question raised by Alpha Dog is its race politics. We assume that these kids are wanna-bes (and they are) from the start, but mostly because they are white. It's assumed young white kids acting tough and listening to rap music are poseurs, which — at this point — is hard to prove. Yet, with the casting of the usually fey-ish Hirsche (best known from The Girl Next Door), it's a hard question to ignore. Just the same, whatever dramatic heft the tragedy means to project is cut short when the death of Zack is followed by a sequence with Sharon Stone in a fat suit. Like his father John, Nick Cassavetes has a way with actors, but it's hard to know if he intended this as an indictment or an indulgence. Universal presents Alpha Dog in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include "A Cautionary Tale: The Making of Alpha Dog" (11 min.) and a "Witness Timeline" that tracks the 38 witnesses identified throughout the film. Keep-case.

Back to Quick Reviews Index: [A-F] [G-L] [M-R] [S-Z]

Back to Main Page